Not for the first time, we're opening a three-star review by urging you to keep an open mind.
The broad facts are these: on a strict pound-for-pound basis, the Tangent AMP-30 (or ‘Ampster' to use the cuddly Tangent nomenclature its utilitarian looks scarcely merit) doesn't really cut it.
For those with specific needs to be met, though, the AMP-30 is a fairly credible proposition.
The AMP-30 is a small, sturdy box housing 20W of power. The specification is as brief as the unit itself: RCA inputs for a single source, a 3.5mm input for another, and a pre-out for a subwoofer.
That, along with speaker outputs and a USB charging output, is the lot for the back of the device. Up front, there's a big volume dial that also controls power on/off.
More after the break
Discreet, but sonically mediocreAll of this means it's essentially a desktop amplifier. In the bedroom or the office, a discreet box like this, linked to some equally unobtrusive speakers, might seem just the thing to power an iPod (other MP3 players are available) and provide performance beyond your average dock 'n' speakers all-in-one.
Performance, though, is the problem. Tested with the simple guitar-and-vocals of Scott Walker's 30 Century Man, the Tangent sings in a clean, unaffected voice – its tonal neutrality and mildly perky presentation more than make up for its slight uncertainty with timing.
But you don't have to up the stakes far to ruin the Ampster's composure. Lionrock's Morning Will Come When I'm Not Ready is hardly the knottiest or most dynamic recording, but its complexity and drive is enough to reduce the Tangent to metaphorical tears.
Definition and focus is lost, staging and separation abandoned.
If you're a militant hi-fi purist, you'll find room for a bigger, better, similarly priced amp. If you're a little more pragmatic you'll investigate the Ampster – but don't expect it to leave a decent iPod dock for dead